Our first swim of the year was more of a brief splash followed by a series of expletives, followed by maniacal laughter, followed by a rush back to the beach, but it was fantastic all the same.
After a winter of intermittent dips in the pool, I never fail to marvel at how different swimming in the ocean is. The pool is this weird, geometric, far-too predictable space: you travel back and forth like a bead on an abacus and spend all your time hoping something interesting (but not too interesting) happens nearby. It's like working in an underwater office where you and your co-workers are all wearing speedos.
Swimming in the ocean, all that geometry falls way, a distant after thought in the wish-wash of the currents. Sometimes I feel like I'm riding a radio wave, or at least piggy backing on my own private frequency. Farewell, geo-heliocentric universe. The ocean is all curves and has no use for your pesky protractor.
Early in the summer of my thirteenth year, when I was still seriously considering a career as a (very) small forward in the NBA, the Chicago Bulls were facing off against the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA Finals. Seattle was in tough against a Jordan-led squad, but Shawn Kemp was entering his short-lived prime, and even though it felt like even though the Bulls were a sure bet, Seattle was, at the very least, going to make the series interesting.
Much to my amazement, one night as I was laying in bed and listening to the radio with my yellow Sony Walkman--you know the one: its clamp trapping your tape inside so tightly that it felt like the device could weather a few orbits in space--a radio broadcast of the third game came floating into my bedroom. The announcers voice was nothing short of angelic. How else was this signal reaching me, if not on celestial wings? I had never listened to a basketball game on the radio before and the miracle of this runaway signal reaching me felt like a gift from above, the heavens finally making up for having smitten me with so much acne.
It was a clear night. Is that how radio works? It's clear, so the signal travels far? Or was it a station in Detroit sending its signal north? A neighbour with one of those ridiculous dishes that were popular in the late 80s?
(I wonder where those dishes are now. Alone in empty field, maybe. Or melted down into your pet's dental fillings.)
Wherever the signal was coming from, when I tuned in again for the next game, it had moved on to some other lonely teenager's bedroom. Forces beyond myself has seen fit to deliver that one game neatly into the 8.5 cube that was my bedroom, and while it would have been great to hear the whole series, I still felt lucky to have had a minor miracle delivered into the melancholy of my suburban Catholic childhood.
All this must seem strange to anyone who can't remember a time before the internet, but I have it on good authority that such a period in human history did, in fact, exist. Television was around, of course, but in our family the great glass box that anchored the house also came with a thirty-minute limit, and so watching an entire game was impossible. Thus the Sony Walkman and the open window and the clear night that brought all 43 inches of Shawn Kemp's vertical soaring through my bedroom, feeling every bit like the impossibility that it was.
I often get freaked out when I swim the ocean. Sometimes it's because a piece of seaweed has draped itself across my arm and for the slightest of moments, I'm convinced that the Great Sea Monster Beneath, the one that has been watching me since childhood and just biding its time, has chosen this exact moment to consume me into its cankerous self. But mostly I get freaked out because the ocean opens every in direction at once: everything can arrive from anywhere, and so you never know what might drift into your path.
Many years ago, my friend Tim and I were tossing out what was left of our lunch at a food court, and I asked him what the difference is between analog and digital. Strange thing to ask clear out-of-the-blue, but Tim was in the process of becoming an electrician, and he's one of these people who knows these things.
Think of it this way, he said. This flap over the garbage can swings open or closed to an infinite number of degrees. We could stand here all day, and each time we opened it, it would be open to a slightly different point. It's fluid, in other words, and exists at an infinite number of possible positions. (Tim really talks like this. I'm not making this stuff up.)
With digital, there's always a finite point, however small and precise it may be. 98.43345. 1093.00454045. Think at those numbers past the decimal. There's always a number, a coordinate, a specific figure, a place on the map you can point to and say with some certainty where it is. You can identify it and you know that it's there. It's handy that way. You can easily share it with others.
That makes sense, I thought. And ever since I've had a fondness for the little swinging doors that hang over garbages at food courts.
More recently I've been working on my own explanation, which is almost certainly overly reductive and likely entirely misleading in nature. It goes something like this: digital resides in the realm of known and knowable; it speaks the same language as everything else, it's outgoing, it's convenient, and more than likely happy to meet you.
Analog, meanwhile, is a bit of time travelling oddball: difficult to pin down, transient, elusive. The alpha and omega of spatial positioning, it can be everywhere and nowhere at once. Your place at an indeterminate point, somewhere past the decimal.
Is the ocean the very definition of analog? Or analog in its purest form?
It's a nice idea. And, as far as passing theories go, fun to entertain, but probably a bit misleading, too. After all, the ocean is carefully charted; you can point to any place on the globe and return with its coordinates. These are good things, especially if someone or something is missing.
But then these are qualities that are projected onto the ocean, and not necessarily a part of the ocean itself. Its infinite variations feel seamless to me. It's no shape at all, but if it were, it would be the shape of something as it becomes something else.
If I could be any shape, it would be the shape of something as it becomes something else.
All this to say that we had our first swim of the season. And we took these pictures afterwards. All in all, it was a pretty wonderful day.